Despite the freezing temperature and the stomach churning heights, peeking over the mountain as the sun broke through the clouds, views of the fjords in every direction, I had never felt more alive.
Reaching the summit of Breiskrednosi was one of the proudest moments of my life so far. I’d spent a couple of days with a group of total strangers, in a country I’d never visited, in a place I’d never been. God I was excited.
And I was right to be. These things so often turn out sounding better on paper than they do in the real world, but so far my weekend hiking in Norway was better than I had ever imagined it would be.
As I leaned against the bus window, driving away from Bergen airport (casually watching the scenery get taller. And taller. And taller…), I mused upon the weekend ahead. I had signed up for a kayaking and hiking weekend with Much Better Adventures; whilst being about as socially inept as people come. I’m just a ball of awkwardness. So to be sharing this adventure with 7 absolute strangers was more than a little daunting.
The atmosphere at the hostel couldn’t have proved me more wrong – I boldly went out to dinner with new friends, enjoying the gorgeous town of Voss. Right on the fjord, this town really was pretty. And extremely cold. Lesson soon learned for the next few days.
Breakfast was early (and yes, in an attempt to appear more cultural I did end up with a bowl of sour yogurt and cornflakes, and a water bottle half-filled with apple juice). Then we were off – an hour’s bus ride to the official start of our adventure.
Introductions were made, instructions given and before I knew it we’d packed our solo kayaks and hopped in, heading for the open water behind our guide. I’ve kayaked before. Kayaking in the UK – in a river, following a current, for a couple hours. I totally had this kayaking thing – I was completely ready for a relatively tiring but relaxing experience. What I got was 5 hours of gruelling hard work in that kayak – it was tough kayaking on open water fjords. Cold, difficult and tiring. I loved every second of it.
The view was absurdly stunning – straight out of Lord of the Rings kind of stunning. The mountains standing vast and impressive either side of you, stretching out far in the distance, the channel so wide that you can see entire ferries merrily chopping through the fjord, providing some enjoyable moments of respite where you could let the current they created carry you a little ways.
Arriving at camp, everyone was tired and freezing cold – and getting colder due to the rain. Yet we had 6 kayaks to unpack, with 8 people’s worth of tenting, food and supplies, whilst also having to get the kayaks themselves to shore.
What should have been a miserable moment of the day was actually one of my favourites – not one cry for help was spoken, and yet everybody set to it together. We were utterly exhausted, but it was a moment of pure teamwork and humanity that I very fondly look back on. Tents set up, a fire roaring, our equipment stored and ALL the warm clothes on, we huddled round a table, cracked open some fjord-chilled beers and ate the most delicious fire-grilled pork steaks I’ve ever had. I think it’s safe to say I was about as happy as a man can get. We camped on the beach, so heading to bed that night with a view of the fjord right ahead of me, I felt truly at peace. Achy, tired and deeply happy. I didn’t even know the half of it yet.
After an early pancake breakfast, we set off on a hike that would see us ascend through the most stunning valley I’ve ever been privileged enough to stroll through, into forests and up to the very top of the fjordic expanse.
Still woeful about my apple juice blunder, I was just starting to worry how I’d have any drinking water when the guide turned to all of us with a smile. He told us that the river we were walking alongside is as clean and refreshing as it gets and to fill our boots. Needless to say, we did. It’s probably a little pretentious to claim it’s the best water I’ve ever tasted, but bollocks to that, it’s the best water I’ve ever tasted. If water had a rating, it was 5 stars.
Following stepping stones over a marshy field, the expanse of the valley spread out before us as we finally cleared the forest. And wow. Literally.
There were plenty of wows on this trip but this was the first time the entire group said it aloud. Just wow.
Drinking in the view, the trail flattened out for the first time as we entered the second village (when I say ‘village’, obviously I mean a small collection of houses left unused for hikers or farmers).
We stopped for a drink and I turned my head to look at what appeared to be an almost sheer cliff. I laughed and remarked about how we surely couldn’t be climbing that. The others laughed too, amused at my foolish notions.
We weren’t laughing when we began to ascend it.
The climb was an hour of constant struggle, zigzagging up what felt like an oddly walkable sheer rock face. It was tough. I can’t lie, at points I didn’t know if I had it in me. It was a real mental struggle, as well as physical. Just as I started to think about giving up, the going began to smooth out. We had reached the rocky tops of the mountain range; not yet our peak but so close. And up on top there, I was transported to another world.
Nothing but the sound of the wind and the views of the valleys around us.
We stopped at the lake on top of the mountain to fill our bottles for the last half hour of our journey to the very top. The top.
I was the last to make that final scrabble, having fallen behind on the sharp incline – and I couldn’t have cared less. I peaked the summit and gazed out and was transfixed. I was entranced. I was… Well, I don’t have the words to do justice to my emotions as the view unfolded before me.
My hands were shaking from the cold despite my gloves, my stomach was aching with hunger, my legs were feeling less than sturdy after the climb and my lungs were burning.
And yet all I felt was a deep peace; pride, elation and a simple deep happiness. Totally lost in the maze of mountains with the ocean running between them that stood proud in front of me, stretching to the horizon. It felt like coming home.
Kayaking back to base camp on the final day was an easy ride of shared laughter amongst my friends. It was cold, it was hard work – but we really didn’t care.
This wasn’t a weekend adventure, it was a journey. Memories made, friendships formed, sights seen, and very personal moments conquered; these things will be immortal to me. When I’m old and grey I’ll never forget that feeling of standing tall above the world, the ocean far below my feet. The kayak back to shore the next day, the bus ride to the airport, the plane home, it all somehow seemed oddly distant. I was still up on that mountain. Still lost in that view. Sometimes I think I still am. These things will last forever in my mind and it’s an experience I will cherish always. Thank you Much Better Adventures and thank you Norway. You gave me a lifetime of memories in a weekend. I’ll never forget it.